Candice Denny’s goal is to always be someone her team can depend on.
She did that and more last Friday night against No. 12 Oregon.
The Wildcats called on Denny to cover for Liz Shelton and Katie Smoot, both of whom were injured. Denny moving from her natural position at middle blocker to the right side.
The sophomore posted a career-high 13 kills on .344 hitting and was one of many standout performers in the five-set upset (25-23, 16-25, 25-23, 16-14) of Oregon.
Next, a three-set victory over Oregon State — Arizona’s first sweep of the Oregon schools since 2010 and the first team to sweep a Pac-12 road trip this season. The No. 21 Wildcats are 14-2 overall, 3-1 in Pac-12 play.
“(It was a) terrific weekend. It’s rare that we get a road sweep, especially against two really good teams,” said UA coach Dave Rubio, whose team faces No. 15 Washington at 6 p.m. Friday at McKale Center and No. 22 Washington State at noon Sunday.
“The match against Oregon was as close as they come, and I was really proud of how we were able to execute well enough at the sets that we won. It’s a reflection of how we’ve been practicing and I think a reflection on the development we’ve gone through the last 12 months. We really haven’t shown that we’ll get too frazzled when things get tight. We’re really in a good place right now, in terms of our experience and our skills. And success kind of gives you confidence.”
Switching Denny to the right side was a last-minute decision, and it took the Ducks a few sets to adjust.
Denny said she didn’t feel extra pressure despite having a new position to learn. Fortunately, she had played the right side a bit on her club team.
“I just wanted to do the position as well as I could; doing what I can because even when we are down we aren’t less advantaged,” Denny said.
The move gave Rubio a scoring punch from the right side.
“The thing we’ve lacked from that side of the court is anyone who can really score,” said Rubio. “Candice over there gives us someone who can potentially score for us and that is exactly what happened in the Oregon match.”
It also helped Kendra Dahlke continue to put up big numbers. She had 40 kills on only eight errors and 118 swings last weekend. Dahlke, a senior, earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week for the first time.
She had 75 swings during the Oregon match and said “75 swings in a match is a lot. My legs get tired the next day. I’m like, I must’ve jumped a lot yesterday.”
Rubio was happy with Dahlke’s performance.
“What I’m seeing from Kendra is typically what you see from a senior. Someone who really understands the day-to-day effort and the day-to-day approach you need to have to be successful and have a great senior year,” Rubio said.
“I thought the Oregon match was amazing. I looked at the stats and didn’t know we set her so many times. The numbers that she put up were remarkable. Not so much carrying us, but really carrying us. She’s got a great support staff around her. ... I mean her and Paige (Whipple) together having two errors is historic. That’s never happened before since I’ve been here.”
Devyn Cross said the Wildcats didn’t feel additional pressure to perform even though they were down two key players.
“My goal is to always perform at my peak. So I go in with the mindset that, do what you always do, do what you are taught, what they tell you in practice, and everything will work out,” said Cross, who finished with eight kills on 11 error-free swings and four blocks against Oregon State.
“Knowing that you can trust your teammates, that they are going to do their job, everything will go smoothly — whether you are missing players or you have everyone there.”
The Wildcats don’t expect Smoot or Shelton back this weekend. Denny and others will be called on to fill the gap.
“I think that’s part of the reason why we are such a strong team is that even when people are out, there are people who are just as talented who can step in their place and keep the momentum going forward,” Denny said.
“It’s not like, ‘Oh, this player is gone, we’re totally screwed. It’s like, ‘She’s gone and I’m going to step up and help my team.’”